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For most of our pets, a nice chew toy or a day at the park is an easy choice over the pomp and pageantry of dog shows. But for the elite canines who do compete, it's a way of life.
At national competitions like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the American Kennel Club National Championship, hundreds of dogs separate into several breed groups, including herding, nonsporting, toy, and hound. They're judged on traits such as coat, color, size, and weight. Often, winners of these groups will ultimately compete against each other for the coveted title of Best in Show.
For New York City–based photographer Dolly Faibyshev, this is a world filled with humor and irony around every corner. For years, Faibyshev has been a fixture at dog shows across the country, capturing their colorful characters and their canine divas in her unique and vibrant style of shooting. Faibyshev's new book, Best in Show, brings together these pictures in a surprising look into these competitions.
Here, Faibyshev speaks with BuzzFeed News about her new book and what it's like to work in a world where dogs are the center of the universe.
How did you first get into shooting dog shows and at what point did you decide to make a book about them?
I started out by shooting dog shows for my own enjoyment. I saw it on TV when I was starting out and thought, surely it must be a fun and weird thing to check out and photograph — and I was right. Over the years, it became something I just kept coming back to until suddenly I found myself with a ton of photos, so it started to naturally present itself as a series.
From your observations, what does it take to raise a winning show dog today?
I have asked myself a version of this question at every show, and I still do not know the answer. I have to say, as an outsider, it feels completely arbitrary to me — some years, it's the crowd favorite; other years, it's the opposite of the crowd favorite as if the judge is trying to prove something. I've tried to put myself in the shoes of these handlers, and the only conclusion I can come up with is it grows ever more ambiguous and keeps bringing me back.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about dog shows?
Although it may seem fancy, there's a lot of chaos behind the scenes — as well as hard work and investment, both financial and emotional.
Can you talk a bit about the extensive grooming that these dogs undergo at these competitions?
It varies from dog to dog. There seems to be an established set of procedures for each breed or type of fur — there appears to be an accepted set of criteria that the groomers all closely follow, that have seemingly been handed down over generations, as if it's become tradition. I've seen things like adorable little straightening irons to get the hair super smooth. It almost feels like children playing with dolls with all the obsessive brushing and styling.
Which did you find easier to photograph and why: the people or the dogs?
Definitely the dogs. It takes me out of the moment when I'm shooting something like this, and people become aware of me and start to get self-conscious in front of the camera. The dogs just don't care either way, which is great, but good luck trying to get their attention when you need it.
What are some of the unique challenges that a photographer faces in this type of working environment?
You have to watch where you step! It can get messy, you have to watch for "puddles" sometimes, and you also have to be careful of the tiniest performers under your feet.
Any strange experiences you've encountered during your work?
Another publication was interviewing me about the book and I had suggested a photo I particularly like for the article, but was told their editors would think it was too risqué given that the dog's you-know-what was visible. These dogs aren't neutered after all!. That was definitely a hilarious and unexpected surprise.
What do you hope that people will take away from your pictures?
It makes me happy if a photo of mine makes someone smile or feel something...anything at all. Of course, there are more important things to worry about, but I hope it can at least serve as a pleasant distraction, and hopefully, just a good book of photography, whether you like dogs or not.